Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Dozen Memories Before Bed

It is quiet, still and dark now. That’s a stark contrast to the last 10 hours, but exactly what I need. I’m recovering from the best baseball game I’ve seen live in 18 years, a cacophony of noise, hope, rage, enthusiasm and community and – and I’m spent. The kids are in bed, so is The Voice of Reason™, and I should be – god knows I should be – but I'm not ready to fully embrace the quiet, still and dark.

So let’s shift from “recover” to “reminisce”, in the hopes of eventually reaching “relish”. There were 12 innings, and that’s just such a beautiful round number, full of biblical implications, so let’s go through the twelve innings and pull a memory out of each.

I’m going to remember Joe Mauer taking that extra base. My kids were at the game, and since they don’t watch that much baseball, they didn’t understand how extraordinary that is. A team leader, not especially fast, and a catcher to boot, going like a bat out of hell to squeeze an extra base. Justin Morneau did the same thing the first series of the season, and it impressed the hell out of me then, and Mauer impressed the hell out of me tonight.

But I didn’t explain it to my kids. They aren’t there yet, they wouldn’t get it. I’d just be their dad rambling on about something unimportant, the same way all our parents do. And logically they would be right, because Mauer is stranded there as the inning ends.

But it was important. I believe that.

Tigers have a runner on third base with one out and fail to drive him in. I was just on Seth’s podcast tonight and I wondered out loud how many times that happened to Detroit tonight. So I’m going to look through the game quick and let you know…

Four times. That’s less than I thought. But note that this isn’t how many times that runners were in scoring position and a batter didn’t get a hit. This is how many times a productive out would’ve scored a run, but didn’t. It happened this inning, and twice in the ninth and once in the 12th.

I haven’t reflected much on just how heart-breaking this loss must be to Tigers fans. Besides the lack of execution with runners on third, you have the misplays in the field and the three game lead collapse. (Shudder) That's enough reflection for now.

I hate to say it – but I'll remember the “al-cho-hol-ic” chant the crowd directed at Miguel Cabrera the most. I know, I know – you stay classy, Minneapolis. But I don’t feel the need to apologize for it.


I remember Scott Baker continuing to struggle, giving up a single and then starting the next batter with an outside pitch before shortstop Orlando Cabrera called time-out to talk to him, with Mauer joining them. One pitch later Rick Anderson also came out to talk to him.

From then forward, Baker was very good, and having him go into the seventh inning helped a bullpen which should be a legitimate concern versus the Yankees.

Nothing much happened this inning, so let’s go with a pregame memory. We park an hour and twenty minutes before game time thinking we’ll stop at Maxwell’s and maybe get some waffle fries. We know we’re in trouble when we see a line of people waiting to get into Grumpy’s. Maxwell’s has no line, but is so full of people that it felt dangerous in there. We skedaddled and just went to the dome.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – this is a football town. But we’re getting there. The pregame insanity and the reaction of tonight’s crowd is a testament to it.

Jason Kubel, after two very bad at-bats, homers and I’ve been told that’s when it looked like the crowd got into the game. Maybe. But I gotta say, I was more impressed with the crowd tonight than I’ve been in years, even before Kubel’s shot.

50,000 people in the dome can make a lot of noise, but they can also make a lot of silence. I didn’t notice the silence even when the Twins were down 3-0. It was exactly as if the crowd knew that they were going to need to pack a lunch, that this was a game that was going to be decided late.

Let me add one caveat – my enthusiasm for the crowd might be a result of sitting in the second level. There were plenty of times I would look around and see the more expensive seats sitting while upper deck sections were rising and screaming for a 3rd strike. I think this was a case where the farther you were from the action, the more fun it was.

And there were times I’m sure the crowd affected the players. I’m quite sure it helped the Twins score in the bottom of the tenth. It might very well have kept overmatched umpire Randy Marsh from hearing Brandon Inge’s uniform get scraped by a pitch. And I’m convinced we carried Bobby Keppel in the twelfth. All he had to do was throw the first strike and the crowd would take it from there.

I remember the pandemonium during and after Orlando Cabrera’s line drive home run. My kids were elated. Everyone is giving high fives or just hugging. And I dared to think my kids might just experience the rarest of events in Minnesota sports – a big win that really means something.


Or not. The Magglio Ordonez shot was quick enough that we were all sort of numbed by it, but the Rick Raburn/Matt Guerrier/Marsh battle was what got us all worked up. The umpiring seemed so bad tonight that I assumed I was just in a terrible position to evaluate it. After talking to several fans and reading some stories, it seems like a shame that an umpire’s very bad day could affect such a critical game.

Span CANNOT bunt in that situation. I assume he did so on his own, but then someone needs to pull him aside before the at-bat – or even during the at-bat – and let him know he can’t bunt in that position. If Kubel is batting fourth, he can. But since Kubel had been lifted an inning earlier, he can’t. And somebody needs to help him out with this.

The Tigers will likely get criticized for some miscues in this game, but it’s worth pointing out that Brandon Inge made a diving stop of a rocket by Cabrera to keep the Twins from scoring in this inning. It was a breathtaking defensive play.

I’m going to remember my 10-year-old son spinning towards me with his lower lip out and tears in his eyes. Between the HBP of Audrey Huff and calling the pitch immediately before Inge’s double a ball, The Boy™ is convinced that there is an injustice being done. Nothing make that kid madder than that, except maybe losing, and now we had both.

It’s also worth noting that in Matt Tolbert’s RBI single in the bottom of the frame, the Tigers came within inches of that being a double play instead. I did not think that grounder was getting through. I’m not sure I know how it did.

As the Twins used three pitchers in this frame, I remember The Voice of Reason™ turning to me and asking if Ron Gardenhire was going to run out of pitchers soon. I said I didn’t think so, because the Twins still had Brian Duensing, Francisco Liriano and Jeff Manship (not to mention Armando Gabino) available. That’s the advantage of September.

And meanwhile, Fernando Rodney breezes through the bottom of the tenth on something like 35 pitches – and there is nobody warming up in the Tigers bullpen? Really?

Two things – I’ll remember the crowd trying desperately to will Keppel through a scoreless inning. I’ll remember Gardenhire charging out of the dugout by NOT making a pitching change, and me thinking he’s insane.

But mostly I’ll remember Carlos Gomez sliding across home plate. Two innings earlier I had watched him fly into a rage as he left the field and entered the dugout, furious at himself for not getting the clutch hit the team needed in the ninth. Now he’s sliding like a rapturous superman. Gawd it's fun to watch him love this game.

Good - that seems like a good memory to hold onto as I go to bed. It’s time for quiet, still and dark to have their turn.


Twayn said...

Very nicely done, sir. I, too, should be sleeping, but that would break the spell, and I fear that when I wake it will all have been a wonderful dream...

Doofus said...

Did anyone notice that was Keppel's first majorleague win last night?

Anonymous said...

Re: 10th inning pitch to Inge called a ball. My 11-yr old daughter gave me the same look and almost started to cry. Her jumping and running around the living room after the win made the whole baseball season worth it.

Jason said...

regarding Marsh... during the first 7-8 innings I though his strike zone was extremely small (make em swing the bat Ump!) but consistent. He seemed to expand it over the last few frames, but not in a consistent manner. Overall not a horrible job, in all fairness he could've called a hbp later on in the game, it definitely brushed his jersey.

Anonymous said...

As I left the stadium I realized my voice was gone and my hands were so sore from clapping that my elbow tendinitis had flared up. When I got home I realized my ears were ringing...

I don't recall a playoff game this century where the crowd was into it like last night, perhaps it's the improbable run or the fact no one wanted that to be the last game in the Dome. In '87 and '91 I was able to go to the first game of each playoff round and have been to every playoff game since and I can honestly say that last night was the best game I've ever attended. I'm sure game 6 or 7 in 91 was amazing to experience and last night was as close as I've ever been.


Anonymous said...

To add to the list of memories, how about Punto singling to lead off the 7th on a 9-pitch at-bat (without which, Cabrera's home run doesn't give the Twins the lead) and walking on a 10-pitch at bat to lead off the 9th? Not bad for "a guy who can't hit."

Jack Ungerleider said...

Due to a prior commitment I was unable to watch the game. So I've gotten all my news of the game via SportsCenter/Baseball Tonight and the local media (Twins Geek included).

One of the broadcasts had a quote from Inge. He said, "Except for the outcome it was the best game I've ever played in or seen." My guess is that none of the participants on either side felt cheated. I don't remember if was Gardenhire or one of the players that said basically one reason they won was they got to bat last.

Chiasmus said...

Phenomenal post, TG. I couldn't resist re-watching some of these moments on the archive as I read.

I got curious about Marsh's strike zone, so I did a little analysis over at my place. Not sure he was actually all that inconsistent, although like Jason above I thought he changed his zone late in the game:

Anonymous said...

The 3-4-5 batting order needs to be Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel. That way you don't lose **2** bats whenever you insert Gomez for Kubel.

Mauer is going to get intentional walks regardless, but who is going to pitch to him with Gomez on deck?

Anonymous said...

marsh was very bad in the first 4 innings. he wasn't calling anything most of the game, but there were a few inside strikes he called on kubel and a couple others. baker got nothing from him.

David Wintheiser said...

One thing I hope to remember is the degree to which players who might have been goats got redemption; the best combined example I can think of is Ryan Raburn losing Cuddyer's liner in the left field lights, resulting in Cuddy's triple, then getting an amazing throw to take advantage of Casilla's baserunning error to nail him at the plate to keep the game going. And of course, Casilla redeemed himself with the game-winning hit in the 12th.

What I'll most likely remember is that incredulous feeling I had when I realized Rodney was pitching the 12th -- did Detroit have no other reliever they could trust in that situation? It's great that Rodney had the competitive fire to go out and pick up the ball in that situation, but a manager has to be able to tell a guy that he did his best and it's somebody else's turn to hold up the planet for a while. Much as I admire Leyland for his work in Pittsburgh, I had no real answer for his decision in this one.

Anonymous said...

'The 3-4-5 batting order needs to be Mauer, Cuddyer, Kubel.'

Agreed. We should have had Kubel following Cuddyer all season to force more pitching changes instead of letting the LHP be an automatic decision to face the heart of the order. Every pitching change brings the possibility that a guy simply doesn't have it that night (just look at our beleaguered bullpen this season). Cuddy can use the protection and Young's recent play protects Kubel and you've got LR alternating straight through the 6 hole now.

Back to the topics at hand:

I think having Span bunt has been a blind spot for Gardenhire the past month (in which he's been winning so, I'm an idiot) and he should have done it in the earlier situation with 2 men on. It's the correct play with no outs, EVEN WITH GOMEZ as a defensive substitution, because of the specific players coming up.

Cabrera follows and while his BA doesn't blow you away, he puts most everything into play. If Span makes an empty out (60%) and the runner is still on first, Cabrera GIDP or makes an empty out 2/3 of the time. If you have 1st base open, he advance the runner to 3rd most of the time on a productive out or pushes him acrss with a hit.

If Cabrera doesn't get it done, Mauer get walked in most situations but having him bat with a man on 1st isn't going to score most of the time anyway. A double may score the runner, but a single just won't.

Either way, you get a fast runner in scoring position with two outs and pretty much any ML hitter is within .050 (1/20) of any other in this situation.

And this is the worst case scenario. Every one of those players has come through this season and can break it open to make a big inning. Span can reach on his bunt (or Cabrera can hit a HR). And the pitchers still have to make pitches and the defense still has to make plays. All of which plays into the Twins' strengths.

I like Span's bunt in a close game and I hope to see more of it in those situations. This kid is among the best in baseball with all of the tools and going to be a fixture.

John said...

I love Span, and I'm not anti-bunt, but that just isn't one of the times you can bunt. Span is one of the best hitter in the lineup, and by bunting he takes that bat away from the best hitter in the lineup and gives the other team an out. He's also hard to double up.

Tolbert can bunt and I don't blink. Ditto Gomez or Punto. And I would've even supported the Span bunt if Kubel was still in the game. But Span can't bunt in that situation.

TeeAhr1 said...

Thanks for this, John. I wanted to write something like this. Maybe I still will. But this is perfect.

Army of Dad said...

I think the Al-co-hol-ic chants were fair enough. Certainly nice to see someone taking him to ask since the media wasn't up to the job.

I guess in Michigan you can still get away with beating your wife while you are drunk as long as you have a GM that can come get you at the police station. Pretty much any other state that gets you locked up for the night.

As far as adding yet another wonderful memory to the dome's legacy, this game did just fine. Jim Caple quoted Torii as saying that the dome was a bad place to play baseball, but some great baseball was played there.

Anonymous said...

My daughter's friend described Carlos Gomez scoring the winning run as watching a puppy chase a meatball down a flight of stairs.